Westminster Interfaith: Promoting Dialogue Between People of Faith

The agency of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster for Interreligious Dialogue

Westminster Interfaith Newsletter

Issue 62 – July 2009

Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

On May 14, the day before his return to Rome, Pope Benedict XVI stopped at Nazareth in Galilee, where he gave a number of homilies and talks including an address at an inter-religious meeting in the auditorium of the Annunciation shrine.

Throughout his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Pope Benedict did not miss an opportunity to talk about the importance of inter-faith relations for the future of humanity. His talk at Nazareth was not as detailed as others on inter-religious dialogue, but it was very relevant and obviously struck a positive note with the local Galilean people, who cheered and applauded enthusiastically. What happened next was perhaps more indicative of the mood of the gathering. Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein, director of the inter-faith institute in Jerusalem, began singing a song, which he had composed for the occasion. At a certain point the 11 clerics on the stage got up, held hands and began singing the simple song together. The clerics included rabbis, muftis, sheikhs and bishops. Pope Benedict looked rather hesitant at first but then joined in, holding hands with a rabbi on one side and a Druze sheikh on the other. They were singing and swinging to the simple tune with the lyrics: Shalom! Salaam! Lord, grant us peace! Dona nobis pacem! It was all rather fun; a spontaneous outburst of enthusiasm, good natured and well meant, greatly appreciated by everyone present. Even the Pope seemed to enjoy it. He had been preaching the need for inter-religious dialogue and cooperation at every stop on his tour.

It seemed fitting, that just before he returned home, he should end his pilgrimage in a show of unity with the different faiths in Galilee. For three days, prior to this visit, security arrangements had kept the Pope apart from the crowds. In Nazareth, there was a more open atmosphere. He was able to spend more time with the local people in Nazareth, who waved flags and cheered as the Pope was driven through the streets in his bullet proof vehicle.

Perhaps it was also appropriate that this burst of enthusiasm and solidarity should manifest itself in the very town where Jesus grew up, worked as a carpenter and started his ministry in the local synagogue, where Scripture says, Jesus stood up, opened the scroll and read from the prophet Isaiah: 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor' (Luke 4:18). The Nazarenes could not believe what they were hearing. They were furious with Jesus and they wanted to throw him off the cliff nearby. But, we read, Jesus passed through the midst of them and went on his way (Luke 4:30).

Present day Galileans were certainly not angry with the Pope's words but rejoiced and warmed to what he had to say. Indeed, a local Muslim cleric suggested that a new era had begun in inter-faith relations. The Pope's actions on stage probably did as much if not more to foster good inter-faith relations than anything he had to say in his speeches. Let's hope so.

Can anything good come out of Nazareth', Nathaniel asked. 'Come and see', replied Philip (John 1:46).

The Galileans came and heard Pope Benedict preach that peace is a gift from God, which can only be achieved through human endeavour and they saw him singing and dancing on stage with a group of Jewish, Muslim, Druze and Christian clerics, which was a joy to behold. Yes, good things still do come out of Nazareth.

Jon

Read the full text of Pope Benedict's address

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